Friday, 17 November 2017

THERE'S A RANPUR HOUND IN MY BED


A most exotic creature, a now rare canine breed who once adorned Maharaja’s lives and palaces is right now sprawled on my unmade bed. 
The brother and sister hounds are Indian miniature paintings come alive, especially positioned next door in Navneet's palatial family home/palace built in the 1920’s. Navneet’s father was telling me he has 25 staff to tend to the gardens, the cleaning, cooking and maintenance - and some of the staff have lived their whole life with Navneet's family and are as old and crippled as their elderly employers. Petra the wonder woman who runs the Kriti artist residency along with Navneet tells me it is like an old peoples home next door in the palace, the elderly tending the elderly.

I’ve been searching for rags and curious bits of old fabric that have stories hidden in their fibres. There are bundles of rags poked into corners, or just lying about, I’m assuming they are discarded, and to keep myself from karmic harm place rupees in the closest temple when I regime the rags. They will scrunch their unwashed way into the embroideries. Faded and a grimy orange colour the rags are, I’m supposing a Sadhu bought himself a new outfit.

The promise of my illustration workshop at Benares Hindu University, within the Applied & Fine Arts Faculty is being realised on the 30th November. I had a meeting with four, most likely tenured, moustachioed, jolly, Arts Professors and had a lively interrogation “What is your qualification?”, “what technique and medium do you use”, “what are your offerings to the students?” Strings of adjectives is the norm here, sorry, apologies, excuse me.

I tell them about my embroidery and block making project here in Varanasi, and how it mostly reflects the lives of the poor rural population and of women’s issues. They nod appreciatively, but I don’t seem to see any female art tutors as yet. It does not appear through looking at the work on the walls that there is an enormous amount of thinking outside the square, so I’m hoping I might get the students minds sloping off a bit.

I’d been feeling apprehensive about the puja for my father, and of the scattering of his ashes from a boat into the Ganges. I thought I’d fall to pieces, but no, it was an inspiring ritual of waving incense, repeating chants of ancient Sanskrit words after the Brahmin priest (hard), sprinkling water on my head and the blessed marigolds. So a small part of my father will now be swilling about in the Indian Ocean happy in the knowledge that he has been liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth and that his soul is clean and pure. 

I heard his words clearly during the ritual - “Anna, where am I, and what’s this hippy incense business”.  I said to the priest “ I don’t feel sad at all”, he replied “ Why should you, your father’s soul is free and clean”
He lives on, I feel transgender sometimes, like Gary (Dad) is knocking at my ribcage walls, and that I’ll start wearing blue V necked jerseys and Rieker shoes.

Tanya, Prue and I visit the priest’s Asi Ghat temple, the priests are reciting their chants but they stop to say hello and enquire as to where we come from - I tell them we are three goddesses from New Zealand, and that one day they must come and visit our god of the forest Tane Mahuta.

I saw on Titirangi neighbourly a posting that said ‘Do you have a problem with a pothole in your road?’ Very, very funny when most roads here consist of loose stones, rocks and sand. 

Past the truck and bus cemeteries we went to visit one of the few remaining block printing workshops, a large dark space with colour ink testing marks all over the walls, an on/off generator switch that a small man sits beside to switch back on every time it fails. They are block printing 400 four colour silk scarves, decorated with a paisley design (origin - the mango) with perfect eye/ hand precision even in such dim light. They will take 15 days to complete the order.

My plan is to go to this Muslim workshop for one day next week to make prints from my woodblocks onto fine hand loomed village silk. Google translate will have to be my interpreter.
I’m hoping they have a rich gold ink. My friends Tanya and Prue are here, it is good to have girly laughs and gossip - they’ve embraced Varanasi just like natives. No mind the cow poo, the acrid pissoirs, the smothering dust, the ear drum drilling horns. Ajay our learned translator tells us that he went to Sweden, and wondered what the ticking noise was that he could hear, it was his watch.

I’m reading Diana Eck’s ‘City of Light’, the ‘acclaimed study and interpretation of Bananas, the holy place of the Hindus’ - and just this morning while the Ranpur hound was sprawled across my bed I read that Annapurna is a gracious and luminous goddess and that ‘Anna’ literally means ‘the essence of life’. I have a lot of work to do on myself.



The most exotic creature I've ever had in my bed.

A grubby Sadhu fabric throwout, and stitching directions for a rag picker embroidery.

A small Zardozi underway, along with my instructions. Echoes of the cremations alongside the Ghats.

Ramesh and son found it not too hard to choose a Trump cartoon out of my offered pile.
They thought it was funny, I'm not sure quite why? 

It is a challenge to choose bead and thread colours  - 16 different reds, seven different golds....

Tanya the museum worker and Prue the architect are gorging on the visuals at every step.

Surrounded by seductive hand loomed silks. The Dalai Lama and the V&A Museum are customers.
Fine peacock feathers woven into silk weft, double brocades, thick Tibetan monastery wall hangings, contemporary designs, hundreds of hours hand weaving in one metre, and crafted in the dusty simple lanes of hidden Varanasi.

Washed my feet here, was tempted to go right under.

Whoever would imagine that Subhas carves a living out of beautiful designs from here in this obscure tiny space.
Inspection of the sterilisation wood block, he then demonstrated the ink application needed for a proof.

Three of the 400 wood blocked silk scarves, and the workshop I shall be printing my wood blocks in.

A concert of some of India's finest singers and musicians, very easy to fall into a sublime trance...

... and the very other end of the spectrum.


1 comment

Anonymous said...

Was really starting to get impatient. Thank you for another Varanasi fix! I will be lost when you leave. You look so well, am so glad you continue to thrive. Love to you, the gorgeous hounds, and the Gary inside you. XX

© Anna Crichton: Illustration and Exploration
Maira Gall